Dr Aki Hintsa has died of cancer at the age of 58.
A keen ice hockey player in his youth, Hintsa was drawn to sports, but studied medicine, graduating from the University of Turku in 1983. He began working as a doctor of Intensive Care medicine at Seinäjoki Central Hospital and became a team physician for a variety of sporting clubs and was a consultant to the Finnish Anti-Doping Agency. In 1992 he headed off to Ethiopia as a missionary doctor. When he returned a year later he became a consultant surgeon at the University of Helsinki and then chief physician of the Ähtäri District hospital, before returning to Ethiopia for a second stint in 1997. He had become a physician with the Finnish national track and field teams by that point and was intrigued by Ethiopia’s elite long-distance runners and tried to understand how they were so dominant at international level. His relationship with double Olympic gold medalist and multiple World Champion 10,000 metre runner Haile Gebrselassie proved to be a turning point and Hintsa began to develop what he called his Core philosophy that success derives from finding the optimal balance between general health, physical activity, nutrition, recovery, biomechanics, and mental energy. After returning from his second stint in Africa, he was put in contact with Mika Hakkinen, who was recovering from an accident that nearly killed him in Adelaide at the end of 1995, his life being saved by the rapid intervention of the trackside medical team. Hintsa began working with Mika and played an important role in building him up to win the World Championships in 1998 and 1999. In 2001 he became Chief Medical Officer of the Finnish Olympic Committee, while moving to become head of sports medicine of Mehiläinen Helsinki Hospital, where he would become chief physician in 2004. His work with McLaren was formalised in 2003 when he was appointed Team Physician and in 2006 was became Chief Medical Officer of the team and Head of the McLaren Human High Performance Lab. He spent 11 years with the team working with Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton before he decided to set up his own Hintsa Performance company, with clinics in Geneva and Helsinki, helping many Olympic athletes, top level racing drivers and business executives to perform to their maximum. His clients included Sebastian Vettel.
In 2015 he wrote his story in a book called “The Core”. Sadly, by then he was suffering from cancer, but he refused to compromise on his work. He appeared this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos and his session was so oversubscribed that a second had to be scheduled the following day. His last appearance at a Grand Prix was at Monza a few months ago, although there was little sign of his fight with cancer.
Hintsa was an inspirational human being and one of the sport’s more remarkable characters and his influence continues with a number of his trainers employed in the sport today.